The Poison in Me
Written by Wendy Wetzel
I worked in my yard most of the day yesterday, as perfect a late May day for working as you could ask for. Most of the time was spent issuing a do-over on my long-neglected, deeply grass-infested flowerbed bordered with rocks at the front corner by the sidewalk: pulling weeds, digging up grass, separating wanted plants from grass, turning the soil, moving all the rocks out and putting them back. Somehow I ended up with a bunch of extra rocks (don’t ask me how–maybe this flowerbed came from Ikea?) which I moved to the side of my house, where I yanked some weeds to get the hose connected.
Of all the many plants I touched, over at the side was that one stinking persistent poison oak/Virginia creeper vine I’ve pulled before, grabbing its way up the side of the house again. I ripped it with violent satisfaction, safely gloved, but as I pulled it across onto my weed pile, I felt it lightly brush my forearm. I may have even muttered out loud, “It touched me! Great, now I’m going get a rash again!” Then I cleaned up the last weeds and tools from the front, went in back to plant my container vegetables, and forgot all about it.
Guess what? This morning as I got up I idly scratched my arm and instantly could feel the reaction. Sure enough, there it was–the telltale line of dots in the exact spots on my forearm where I had poison ivy/oak so badly two summers ago and it flared up again last summer. One little brush, one little scratch, and it comes roaring to the surface, screaming for attention, begging to be scratched, promising relief if I will just give it the satisfaction.
The problem isn’t that I touched the poison. It’s that *the poison is IN ME.* It has embedded itself. It controls that part of my skin. I can’t permanently stop myself from having this reaction; I can only control it by recognizing it and treating it intentionally.
This is racism: the poison that is in me.
The poison that is embedded in America.
The ache we want to just rip off the surface of our skin but we can’t because it’s part of what’s underneath.
I can’t deny it.
I can’t ignore it.
I can’t wash it away and forget about it.
I have to treat it intentionally.And then I have to treat it again.
And then, when I think I’ve moved on, overcome, forgotten all about it–one little brush and the poison rises up.
I’ll probably never be free of this cursed rash, not really, not as long as I have this arm. And I’ll never be fully free of the racial biases that poison my heart, mind, and soul, not as long as I live on this fallen earth in this land choked by strangling poison vines.
But I’m never going to stop ripping that vine out.
I’m never going to stop intentionally fighting the poison in me.
Just after I realized I had this reaction flaring up, I became aware that overnight, our city experienced its own welling up of reaction to the poison of racism. I’m so thankful for this timing, because I enter this week with a physical reminder of how scratching from the outside inflames even thick protective skin and how self-control can eventually falter in the agony of needing to tear the pain out. Most of all, I remember that the poison comes from inside, and I commit to treating myself at the source.
“I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. . . . As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 7:15-24)
Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is always before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight;
so you are right in your verdict
and justified when you judge.
Surely I was sinful at birth,
sinful from the time my mother conceived me….Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
(Psalm 51:1-5, 10-12)
If you’re interested in learning more about racism and how we can respond to it, please reach out to Pastor Eric